What Do I Need to Know About Using a Diaphragm as Birth Control?

Disadvantages, Side Effects and Things to Be Aware Of

Using a Diaphragm for Birth Control. Jules Selmes and Debi Treloar/Dorling Kindersley Collection/Getty Images

Many women choose a diaphragm for birth control. Diaphragms are typically a safe, effective and convenient form of contraception. That being said, if you are planning on using a diaphragm, there are some things to be aware of to increase the chances that this method will be an effective choice for you.

Increasing Diaphragm Success:

Pregnancy protection will be increased if you are using your diaphragm correctly during each act of sex.

This includes using spermicide, inserting the diaphragm before sex (it can be inserted up to 6 hours ahead of time. Any longer may weaken the spermicide) and making sure that it is covering your cervix.

If sex is delayed more than 6 hours since insertion, you do not need to remove the diaphragm, just make sure to insert additional spermicide just before having sex. Also, if you have sex again, without removing the diaphragm, just apply more spermicide beforehand.

A diaphragm must be left in place for at least 6 hours after your last sexual act, but do not leave your diaphragm in your vagina for longer than a total of 24 hours.

It is also a good idea to use a male latex condom in addition to using the diaphragm.

Women who find the process of using a diaphragm to be inconvenient tend to end up experiencing higher failure rates.

 --> How To Prevent Diaphragm Failure

Caring for Your Diaphragm:

  • With the exception of water and silicone-based lubricants, do not use any product that is not intended specifically for use with a diaphragm. Your doctor or pharmacist could answer any questions about a product that you may be unsure about.
  • Part of caring for your diaphragm is to check it carefully for tiny cracks, tears and holes each time before inserting it. This can be done by holding it up to a light and gently stretching the rubber apart with your fingers (make sure not to push a fingernail through the rubber). Fill the dome of the diaphragm with water and look for leaks. If you see any holes or cracks, use another over-the-counter birth control method until you can buy a new diaphragm.
  • A diaphragm can still be used if the rubber becomes discolored. But, if the rubber puckers (wrinkles or gathers), especially near the rim, the latex has become too thin, and the diaphragm should not be used.
  • Wash your diaphragm with mild soap and warm (not hot) water after each time you use it. Then, allow it to air dry and store it in its case.
  • With proper care, a diaphragm should last about two years.

 --> When Is It Time For a New Diaphragm?

Disadvantages of Using a Diaphragm as Birth Control:

  • Some women report that this method is messy and inconvenient.
  • Diaphragm use requires some planning ahead (must be in place every time you have sex).
  • Some women find diaphragms difficult to insert.
  • They may require refitting.
  • Diaphragms may be pushed out of place by some sexual positions, penis sizes, and thrusting angles and techniques.
  • The spermicide and/or semen may leak out of the vagina after intercourse (which some women report as being uncomfortable) - wearing a panty liner may help.

Possible Side Effects of Diaphragm Use:

The most concerning side effect of using a diaphragm as birth control is the slight risk of toxic shock syndrome (TSS) if the diaphragm has been left in place for longer than 24 hours.

In these rare cases, symptoms of TSS include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • A sunburn-type rash
  • Dizziness
  • Sudden high fever
  • Faintness or weakness
  • Sore throat, aching muscles and/or joints

If you are experiencing these symptoms, remove your diaphragm and contact your doctor immediately.

Some women who use diaphragms may get repeated urinary tract/bladder infections. This may be alleviated by urinating before inserting your diaphragm. Sometimes, if your diaphragm is too large, the rim can press against the front wall of the vagina, thereby irritating the urethra (the tube that carries urine from your bladder). If this is the case, you may need to have your diaphragm refitted.

Some Final Things To Be Aware Of When Using a Diaphragm as Birth Control:

Understanding how diaphragms work is fairly easy but using them can be a bit more tricky. It is important that you practice inserting your diaphragm. The better a diaphragm fits, the better it will stay in place. Also, in order to protect against pregnancy, you must get the diaphragm into position by carefully inserting it into your vagina and resting it against your cervix. This will take training, so make sure that your doctor shows you how to insert and remove your diaphragm, and have him/her watch you insert and remove it (to make sure that you are doing it correctly).

If you find that you need additional lubrication, you may use any water-based or silicone-based personal lubricant. Do not use any oil-based products (such as Vaseline, baby oil, or vegetable oil) since these can break down the latex of the diaphragm and make it less effective.

And finally... a diaphragm is intended for YOUR individual use, so please do not let anybody else use your diaphragm for birth control. 


Black K & Kubba A. "Non-hormonal contraception." Obstetrics, Gynaecology & Reproductive Medicine. 2011; 21(4):103-106. Assessed via private subscription.

World Health Organization. Reproductive Health. Medical eligibility criteria for contraceptive use. World Health Organization, 2010.

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